Pistachio nuts have a unique nutritional profile – they are especially rich in plant sterols, carotenoids, tocopherols (vitamin E), and arginine. Plant sterols are structurally similar to cholesterol, and provide a cholesterol-lowering benefit.1 All nuts have cholesterol-lowering and other cardioprotective effects, but pistachios (in a tie with Mediterranean pine nuts) have the highest plant sterol content of all nuts. Studies investigating the effects of pistachios on cardiovascular disease risk factors not only reported reduced cholesterol levels, but also decreased inflammatory markers, increased blood antioxidant levels and reduced oxidative stress.2-4 In addition to antioxidants and plant sterols, pistachios are also rich in arginine, an amino acid that is involved in nitric oxide production, which regulates relaxation of arterial smooth muscle and therefore blood flow. In a previous study, pistachio supplementation resulted in enhanced endothelial cell function, which means that nitric oxide availability was increased.4
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is primarily a disorder of penile blood flow, most often accompanied by chronic conditions that affect the vasculature, such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. Atherosclerosis in peripheral arteries is known to contribute to the impaired blood flow in this condition. Atherosclerosis is usually preceded by endothelial dysfunction, which decreases nitric oxide bioavailability, leading to impaired blood flow regulation. Since pistachios have confirmed cholesterol-lowering effects and are rich in arginine (which helps to produce nitric oxide), scientists tested whether pistachios could enhance erectile function in men with ED.
Subjects in the study consumed 100 grams of pistachio nuts (about 3 ounces) each day for three weeks. Erectile function was evaluated by subjects’ reports and also by blood flow measurement with ultrasound. After three weeks of pistachio supplementation, both the erectile function scores based on subjects’ reports and the velocity of penile blood flow were improved. The men’s cholesterol levels also improved.5
The health of the heart and blood vessels is crucial to the health of the entire body. Eating to restore cardiovascular health will improve blood flow and nutrient delivery to all tissues, improving overall health. Like several other chronic diseases, erectile dysfunction shares the same risk factors with cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants, plant sterols, and arginine promote blood vessel health and are provided in abundance by a high nutrient diet made up of whole plant foods.
Dr. Fuhrman is a New York Times best-selling author, nutritional researcher and board certified family physician specializing in nutritional medicine. Learn more by visiting his informative website at DrFuhrman.com and following Dr. Fuhrman on Facebook and Twitter.
1. Ellegard LH, Andersson SW, Normen AL, et al: Dietary plant sterols and cholesterol metabolism. Nutr Rev 2007;65:39-45.
2. Kay CD, Gebauer SK, West SG, et al: Pistachios increase serum antioxidants and lower serum oxidized-LDL in hypercholesterolemic adults. J Nutr 2010;140:1093-1098.
3. Kocyigit A, Koylu AA, Keles H: Effects of pistachio nuts consumption on plasma lipid profile and oxidative status in healthy volunteers. Nutrition, metabolism, and cardiovascular diseases : NMCD 2006;16:202-209.
4. Sari I, Baltaci Y, Bagci C, et al: Effect of pistachio diet on lipid parameters, endothelial function, inflammation, and oxidative status: a prospective study. Nutrition 2010;26:399-404.
5. Aldemir M, Okulu E, Neselioglu S, et al: Pistachio diet improves erectile function parameters and serum lipid profiles in patients with erectile dysfunction. Int J Impot Res 2011;23:32-38.